Sunday, February 18, 2007

This is Nollywood: The Movie

Once in a while, during the rare reprieves from the dizzying vortex of frustration that was the TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN shoot, Denis, Koko and I would sit back and ruminate upon our state of affairs.

Oftentimes during these moments of reflection, it would occur to us that the seemingly unending saga of us trying to get this damn movie made was actually richer in drama, intrigue, spectacle and pathos than the one we were trying to shoot. (In fact, for a time, Koko was seriously pushing for us to dedicate some resources to the production of a feature-length chronicle of our Nollywood journey. Proposed title? Three Blind Mice.)

Of course, we weren't the first ones to recognize the dramatic (and comedic) potential inherent in a candid Nollywood expose: Nick Moran's sardonic Nick Does Nollywood, documenting the English actor's botched 2003 attempt to produce a Nollywood feature, still airs fairly frequently on BBC Prime, and I was able to catch it one evening, during one of our rare reprieves from the dizzying vortex of frustration. Tears of weary recognition welled up in my eyes as I watched, it seemed, recent episodes from my life being re-enacted upon the screen by a hunky, shirtless white man:

SEE! The director struggle to juggle the inflated egos of temperamental actors!

SEE! The director flail desperately to set up shots in hostile filming environments!

SEE! The director's initial cockiness flag as he comes to the sad realization that he is in well over his head and hopes that the cast and crew don't notice the same!

By the time we got to the scene where Moran spends a good deal of time painstakingly setting up a shot, calls "Action!" and as if on cue, the sky opens up and a torrent of rain pours down, the feelings of deja vu were so overpowering that Koko actually hugged me and said "It's alright, man... It's alright."

While pretty damn entertaining, the slightly patronizing tone of Moran's doc ruffled a few feathers and so industry folks have since viewed any "outsiders" professing make inroads into Nollywood through a veil of suspicion. Later, when we were in Lagos shooting the TV pilot, an editor and a few actors told me that there were recently some other white folks in town doing a Nollywood behind-the-scenes, but nobody knew too much what became of the project. Well, I got an answer to that question when I happened to stumble upon ThisIsNollywood dot com earlier this evening.

Not too shabby, eh? I have to admit that I bristled a bit at about 1:33 where the nice lady says "We're doing films for the masses; we're not doing films for the elite and the people in their glass houses." It gets my goat whenever I hear people say shit like that. To me, it's nothing but a half-ass excuse to rationalize half-ass movie-making, but working in Nollywood you hear it a lot:

"...We're making African movies for African people, not for the judges at the Berlin Film Festival..."

"...Movies aimed at
real, everyday Nigerians, for the illiterate bus driver and market woman, not for the aristos drinking champagne on Victoria Island..."

"..Our audience is not highly sophisticated, so why should our movies be?"

I will never cease being offended by the idea that the "illiterate market woman" is somehow more of a "real" Nigerian than an educated professional by sheer virtue of being poorer and more ignorant. It's just a different version of the low expectation/definition by lowest common denominator syndrome that weighs down Negroes in the States: the more "ghetto" you are, the more inarticulate and uncouth, the "realer" a nigga you are. The fuck outta here with that bullshit.

Anyway, I was interested to learn that two of the the movie's three producers, Franco Sacchi and Aimee Corrigan, seem to be based here in the Bean. I'll probably holler at them later in the week, just to see what's up.

I wonder why This is Nollywood isn't screening at this year's African Film Festival at the Museum of Fine Arts, though. I actually forgot that it was going on this week, to be honest. I used to go to the festival every year, but I sort of gave up on it last year. Granted, it's a great site to sight some hot, Afrocentric boho sistas, but by and large, it depresses me.

Most African film festivals depress me a little, really, because it's kinda like a bizarro version of Nollywood: One panders to poor and uneducated Africans, the other panders to white liberals' fantasies of poor and uneducated Africans ("calabash cinema" is what we call the latter).

Neither one of them ever has relatable, well-rounded characters; in Nollywood it's because the producers are often inept and assume that the audience is too dumb to notice or care. In calabash cinema, it's because the audience really doesn't care about African characters as, y'know, characters, but prefers that they function as symbols of social problems. I really can't make up my mind which one I think is worse.

Either way, neither one of them really portray an Africa that I recognize from my own experience. And I know that a lot of Aficans agree with me. When I got to Nigeria last summer, I was really surprised to find so many people who didn't like Nollywood flicks at all and ridiculed me for my interest in them... In fact, for a while, it was a challenge for me to find anybody who did like them. (I eventually found a lot of them, though.) But that's why we're making TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN, isn't it? There's a pretty large segment of the audience that's not being served by the current crop of movies being made in and/or about Africa. And we intend to exploit that.

I did kinda want to see Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako, though; not because it sounds particularly interesting to me (an African village puts the World Bank on trial? The premise might be a bit too polemical for my taste) but I missed seeing it when I went to the New African Film Festival in DC last December, and hey... It's got Danny Glover in it!

But dammit, it's too damn icy out for me to go anywhere, so I think I'll just wait for the DVD. Shit... I'm Nigerian, right? Home video is our preferred mode of movie viewing.



Hmmm, considering the conversations I am having with Nigerians and non-nigerians about Nollywood, I think I should pass this post of yours to a couple people...

Comb & Razor said...

hmmm... i wish i could sit in on some of those conversations! what's the gist?